Why LISTE Remains the Art World’s Epicenter of Emerging Art 20 Years On
There’s no better time to check a barometer than a birthday, and on Sunday, at LISTE—Basel’s not-so-young young art fair—artists, gallerists, and fair organizers took a break from installation to slice into a marzipan cake in the shape of the historic Warteck Brewery building that the fair has occupied since 1996. The consensus? There’s still a lot to love and unearth at LISTE, including unexpected art fair wins: conceptual art, video art, and challenging installations by twenty-, thirty-, and forty-something artists.
Twenty years ago, LISTE began as a fair for young art dealers (the likes of David Zwirner, neugerriemschneider, and Maureen Paley were all there for the first edition) to present work by emerging artists. “Elizabeth Peyton’s work cost nothing when she started in ’96!,” said Peter Bläuer, the adored director and self-ascribed “father” of the fair. (His missed purchase of work by one of today’s foremost figurative painters still stings a bit.)
But every year brings a new set of up-and-coming artists and gallerists alike, with modestly priced booths showing work on the average range of $1,000 to $20,000. The day before the fair, the makers of those works were out in unprecedented numbers—Cooper Jacoby, Calvin Marcus, Igshaan Adams, Florian Meisenberg, Anna K.E., Jesse Wine, and Chadwick Rantanen among them—with their sleeves rolled up for installation. “A lot of these artists are at the beginning. They come here with a lot of hope,” Bläuer said, pausing to say hello to Lucie Stahl, who was installing her solo booth for Brussels’s dépendance gallery. “It’s very special.”
This year, 79 galleries hailing from 30 countries, from Guatemala to Estonia, have hit Basel with high hopes that even a summer rainstorm on the morning of the preview couldn’t squash. After a VIP breakfast shielded beneath a tent, a swarm of international collectors and curators, among them Uli Sigg, Matthias Mühling, Frédéric de Goldschmidt, Simon and Michaela de Pury, and Michael and Susan Hort, climbed the building’s zig-zagging mint-green steps for a first look at the next year in emerging contemporary art.
On install day, Athena Papadopoulos and Charlie Billingham, artist friends whose work shares the space at Supportico Lopez’s booth, pointed me toward their pal Than Hussein Clark’s work at Mathew Gallery—which proved to be a solid tip. Last year, the gallery showed a challenging installation by Clark that ultimately sold to London’s David Roberts Art Foundation. The fair “was really important for him and his development as an artist,” said gallery owner and artist David Lieske. This year, appearing next to Megan Francis Sullivan’s inverted Cézanne painting—after Five Bathers (1885–87)—and Cooper Jacoby’s door handles met with power cables, surgical wire, and X-rays, Clark’s room divider pulls the eye to a sharp left. The sculpture appropriates a paper shopping bag by designer Yves Saint Laurent, which debuted in 1966 with the world’s first prêt-à-porter collection, Rive Gauche.
Coincidentally, the two galleries that also inhabit this room are the ones most closely related to Mathew: Real Fine Arts and High Art. “We share at least three artists with each of them. It’s fantastic,” Lieske said. “These synergies are very practical.” Over at High Art, the one-and-a-half-year-old gallery that grew out of Paris project space Shanaynay, LISTE first-timer Jason Hwang was in high spirits. “I was an artist before I was a gallerist,” he said. “LISTE was my favorite fair to see young and exciting work and it still is.” However, he needn’t have trekked from Paris to Basel to see some of the best. In the gallery’s duo booth, work by Olga Balema and Max Hooper Schneider were quick to attract crowds.
Balema’s corroded-water sculptures are paired with terrariums by Schneider—one including live freshwater snails—who, not surprisingly, studied biology and landscape architecture at Harvard. “Both of these artists are approaching art less from the inside out and more from the outside in,” said Hwang. It’s a strong start for what he claims is the fair’s youngest gallery—but don’t tell that to the 26-year-old gallerists at Arcadia Missa, a London project space newly turned gallery (showing Amalia Ulman, Jesse Darling, and Anne Hirsch) who also suggested ownership of the title when I stopped by.
This year, nearly a third of the galleries are presenting either solo or duo booths. “When the artists are unknown, it is very important that we show more of the work,” Bläuer explained of the stress on these more in-depth presentations. On the second floor, twenty-something Bosnian artist Dijan Kahrimanovic has been given an entire room to work with after winning the 2015 Helvetia Art Prize. He’s designed the space with a cathedral-like ceiling and filled it with black-and-white self-portraits. Before taking the photographs, Kahrimanovic called 1,763 wrong numbers in Switzerland and asked the strangers who shared the line, “Who do you think I am, and how do you think I look?” he said. The performance resulted in a series of 279 pictures and brought the young artist to LISTE for the first time.
Conversely, the neighboring booth by Milan’s Francesca Minini features a solo presentation by Italian artist Flavio Favelli, one of the fair’s small number of artists over 40. Three years ago, the fair lifted a rule banning artists who are over the hill, and while the focus remains on young guns, exceptions are now made for compelling discoveries, and rediscoveries. Favelli’s installation is among them.
Even in the early hours of the preview, several galleries were already in the black. Jonathan Gardner’s paintings at Mary Mary—referencing still lifes and traditional subjects like nudes, vases, smoking, foliage, and paintings within paintings—were snatched up immediately, according to director Hannah Robinson. At Sandy Brown, aluminum works by Swedish artist Ilja Karilampi, engraved and laser cut with personal references ranging from his home address to his favorite music groups, priced at around $10,000, were nearly sold out. Galerie Emanuel Layr, showing work by Stano Filko, Benjamin Hirte, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, and Ramaya Tegegne, had sold two works from every artist in the booth by midday.
And despite those who say video art can’t sell at a fair, it is at LISTE. “Video is not normally so easy to sell at a fair, but I love showing it because it creates little bubbles within the fair—little interruptions,” said Simone Subal, who had sold quite a few works on opening day, including multiple videos, in her booth featuring collaborative work by Anna K.E. and Florian Meisenberg.
Up in the elevated glass capsule that this year serves as the booth of KOW—a gallery newly awarded the FEAGA prize and to be honored this week in a ceremony at Art Basel—a video installation by Hito Steyerl sold to a German institutional collection and had serious buying intention from another museum. (The gallery additionally reported sales of work by Tobias Zielony, who’s among those whose work is also featured at the Venice Biennale—in the German Pavilion—suggesting that the “see it in Venice, buy it in Basel” truism might be sticking despite the Biennale’s earlier start this year.)
Two decades on, LISTE is well established as one of the art world’s primary venues for promoting young art and slingshotting future stars into museum exhibitions and solo shows. It consistently places emerging galleries on the international map—and over to Art Basel proper. (This year, Istanbul’s Rodeo and Vilma Gold galleries have moved on.) “I want the galleries who want to make the step—the ambitious galleries who want to be the top tens at the end,” says Bläur, welcoming his fledglings’ leap onward and upward. The strongest indication of the fair’s success? Galleries and artists alike never forget their first.